A real estate transaction is one of the most common situations where two parties try to come to an agreement by means of a formal offer, subsequent negotiation and eventual acceptance.

For most individuals, this is a relatively infrequent event and the resulting transaction is probably one of the largest financial transactions of their lives. Because of its importance, the offer process is formalized, with little left for potential misunderstandings. The offer price is there, as are the items to be included or excluded. If there are conditions such as the need to have financing approved, or the need for a home inspection, those are detailed in the offer as well. Finally, the offer is signed by the prospective purchaser. It is legally binding on the purchaser, if accepted by the seller, and must be taken seriously by both sides. In addition, it has a deadline for acceptance which is quite tight – usually a matter of hours. After that, the offer is “null and void”.

A career move is a large and important transaction as well. For the individual, the cumulative compensation arising from a career move could exceed the amount of the average home in just a few years. A wrong choice could weaken future earning power that could take decades to reverse, if at all.

For the employer, the financial impact is the same, however in addition to total compensation, a hiring mistake could result in the loss of a significant amount of time and expense to recruit, retrain and reorient yet another person into the position.

Despite the importance of approaching the offer stage in a professional manner, many employers make the mistake of taking an informal approach by sending a draft offer to a candidate which is unsigned and has no deadline for acceptance. Such “trial balloons” sent to gauge the candidate’s reaction, virtually beg for a higher counter offer. Without a deadline for acceptance, candidates are free to see if they can better your offer with the two or three other opportunities that they may be considering. If they are sure of your minimum offer, they are not at risk by taking a few days to see if they can speed up a better offer from somewhere else.

Solution:
Always prepare the offer in a complete and professional form. The offer should state at the top that it is conditional on reference checks and background checks resulting in feedback that is acceptable to your company. It should be dated, signed by the hiring manager or relevant authority, and it should state that the offer remains open for acceptance until 5:00 pm two or three business days hence, after which it will be null and void. It should be complete in every way so that the candidate can sign it as is and return it to you. Even when signed by the candidate, the deal is still not done until you have completed the reference and background checks and you are completely satisfied. At that point, you can formally notify the candidate in writing that you are waiving the condition in the offer and that the employment agreement is now complete.

Even if the offer is fully complete and in final form, there can be some “expectation shock” experienced by the candidate resulting from what they thought might be in the offer (or “should be”, in their mind) and what is, in fact, in the offer. One way to cushion this shock somewhat is to present the highlights of the offer verbally to the candidate on the phone, prior to sending it. This is not an opportunity for a discussion, simply a communication of the highlights and a request that they read the offer in its entirety prior to deciding to accept it. Do not invite comments – the options that you should offer are only acceptance or non-acceptance. To invite comments, will be seen as inviting a counter-offer (which may well come, however there is no point in encouraging it). To avoid any attempt at negotiation on the phone before the candidate has even seen the offer, it is often a good idea for someone other than the hiring manager to make this call.

In summary, a good offer will:
• Be dated
• Be signed
• Include all relevant compensation and job related information
• State that it is conditional on references
• Include a tight deadline for acceptance
• Be preceded by a verbal telephone summary prior to delivery

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A single senior level hiring event which fails will, on average, cost a year of progress, recruitment and severance costs and have a negative impact on the organization’s goodwill as perceived by other employees, customers, shareholders and outside agencies.

Larry Smith founded the management search firm Kathbern Management in 2004 after a multi-decade career in senior roles with organizations in the office equipment, communications technology and investment banking industries. Kathbern Management focuses on working with owners and senior managers to “get the right people on the bus”.

While most of Kathbern’s projects have been in North America, others have been in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Africa and the UK.

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